Footballer Marcus Rashford is expected to hold a phone call with a senior member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet in a bid to boost welfare payments for hard-pressed families.
The Manchester United star will reportedly call for the £20-a-week top-up to universal credit to be extended during a call with work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey sometime over the next fortnight.
The £20-a-week top-up was introduced by the government as a temporary, 12-month measure in April to help Britons through the coronavirus pandemic – but ministers have refused to confirm whether the £6bn-a-year move will be retained in 2021.
Having successfully pushed Mr Johnson to extend free school meals, The Independent understands the footballer will broaden his campaigning efforts next year into wider issues affecting low-income families.
“It [the £20-a-week top-up] is certainly something he has shown strong interest in as he has spent time with families who have benefited from the uplift,” a source close to the star told The Guardian. “Thérèse has stated the uplift will be reviewed. Marcus is keen to discuss this in their call.”
Several leaving charities, such as Oxfam, Barnardo’s and Shelter, have all called for the uplift to be continued – including many of the charities involved in Mr Rashford’s own End Child Food Poverty campaign. Around 700,000 people will be pushed into poverty if the uplift is cut, a coalition has warned.
Several Tory backbenchers and peers have also joined Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP in calling for the extra payment to be maintained, including the former work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb.
Mr Rashford has been reluctant for his campaigning work to be seen as overtly political, and has not commented publicly on universal credit payments. However, in November the star asked chancellor Rishi Sunak on Twitter whether the uplift was “going to be taken away in April?”
A new poll conducted by Survation earlier in December found 54 per cent of UK adults back the idea of extending the payment beyond April 2021, while only 28 per cent disagreed.
The Department for Work and Pensions is reviewing the temporary uplift in January as part of a regular look at the “economic and health conditions” faced by those living on low incomes across the UK.
A spokesperson for the government said: “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond.
“That’s why we have raised the living wage, boosted welfare support by billions of pounds and introduced a £170m Covid winter grant scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.”
Last week The Independent and sister title the Evening Standard reached our Help the Hungry fundraising campaign target of £10m for appeal partner The Felix Project. It will see a social kitchen set up in central London, turning surplus food into meals for vulnerable people.
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